The Given Note by Seamus Heaney

To me, this poem says a lot about the experience of the true artist. He must go to the extreme, to the edge, and so the fiddler in the poem is alone on a windy night on an island off the west coast of Ireland. He goes to the edge of sanity: he hears music in the wind and brings it back to society with him. The followers hear strange noises with no melody from his hut. Heaney presents the artist as a conduit or channel for another world. He doesn’t create but is ‘given’. But at the same time, it requires hard work – the fiddler says to his followers that their fiddling is too ‘easy’.

The Given Note

On the most westerly Blasket
In a dry-stone hut
He got this air out of the night.

Strange noises were heard
By others who followed, bits of a tune
Coming in on loud weather

Though nothing like melody.
He blamed their fingers and ear
As unpractised, their fiddling easy

For he had gone alone into the island
And brought back the whole thing.
The house throbbed like his full violin.

So whether he calls it spirit music
Or not, I don’t care. He took it
Out of wind off mid-Atlantic.

Still he maintains, from nowhere.
It comes off the bow gravely,
Rephrases itself into the air.


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